If you were to take a peek inside my life during the day, you'd probably find me scurrying. Scurrying to make meals, clean the kitchen, change diapers, disable the temper tantrums, take phone calls, do the laundry, run errands... sound familiar? And amidst all the scurrying, there is something deep inside me that desires (no, yearns!) for peace, quiet, and calm.
I've waited patiently for calmness to settle down softly onto my surroundings for years. That's a long time to wait patiently. Too long! As if I'm going to wake up one day and serenity has simply arrived like a package at my doorstep. I unwrap it and there it is: my children (ages 4 and 13 months) playing happily and quietly together on the rug; a clean, orderly, well-decorated, home; plenty of extra time during the day to paint my toenails and read several chapters out of the hottest new "nail-biter;" and me... looking and feeling fabulous, sane, healthy, fit and fashionable. Hahhhh...
Eventually, out of pure weariness, I came to the abrupt realization that this fantasy life is not going to simply occur spontaneously, no matter how patiently I wait. And as I pondered this, I began to brainstorm some options for bringing more peace, quiet and calm into my life: wake up at 6am (more ME time), focus my attention on helping my pre-schooler learn how to better listen to me (more sanity), get my 13 month old out of the house more so he doesn't simply run circles in "destruction mode" (a more orderly home), and go to bed every night at 9pm (more "nail-biter" time). However, as I put my options into practice, I found that, although these were all "logical" solutions, they were not at all realistic when bundled together. Shocker!
What I realized is that not only do I have to let go of this perfect fantasy life, I have to intentionally CREATE this peaceful vision for myself; I have to bring this creation into reality within each and every moment of my day. Every day. And that, dear Mamas, begins with ACCEPTANCE. As I accept all of every moment, the beauty, the mess, the smile, the tantrum, the butterfly kisses, the time wasted, the sweet baby cheeks, the embarrassment, the LOVE; and as I feel all of every moment, I find I am able to create a little bit of peace, quiet and calm within me...even if only for a moment. Here's how I do it:
Look Within, Not Without
The calmness is within me, not without. And it is also within you. And by that I mean if we look outside ourselves for objects, people and situations to bring us peace and happiness, then we are looking in the wrong place altogether. If we wait for our lives to magically become peaceful, quiet, or (...fill in your own favorite adjective here), then we will be waiting forever. However, peace is something we can cultivate within our hearts. More than 2500 years ago the Buddha said, "Peace comes from within, not without." And we can practice peace by applying acceptance to all of our moments each and every day. Very naturally, the outcomes of acceptance are: true enjoyment of and gratitude for all that is beautiful within a moment, an ever-increasing ability to let go of all that is undesirable in a moment, and a more clear cut path toward infinite, loving possibilites in terms of how we respond to a moment.
For me, this translates into a deep gratitude for the value and worth of my life and the lives of all those around me, the courage to let go of undesireable moments WAY more easily, the invaluable ability to have fun and be silly in the moment with my kids and husband, and the understanding that life will never be perfect. I'm okay with that now, and it is actually comforting in a way, you know?
I can remember a time not so long ago when I would sit by the fire in the early evening reading a book with a glass of wine, blissfully unaware of the peace and beauty of that moment... unaware of the many details about that moment to be grateful for, and possibly not even intentionally enjoying that moment at all. As I practice acceptance every day, I know I'll let fewer and fewer of these moments simply slip by me. After all, life can be enjoyment and calmness can be within.
by guest contributor, Sigrid Kjeldsen, The Joyful Mother
Yielding to what is, or accepting the now, is one of those life skills that can change your life. It did mine. Before I tell you about how that happened, I just have to explain what yielding to or acceptance is NOT. It is not giving up or giving in or being complacent or playing the victim. On the contrary, it is one of the most powerful acts of courage you can grace your life and the lives of your family with.
For me, in my life, as with many moms I know, things can get crazy, loud, chaotic and messy. All things that have the potential to take me away from feeling good in the moment and at its worst, sink me into a blackhole of funk. I love order, I love beauty, harmony and most of all I love silence. Ha! How do you think that works with a rambunctious 4 year old and a super chatty 9 year old? I do get actual silence every now and then, but not often when the kids are home! But that is OK, you know!? I don’t expect my kids to be seen and not heard and a little noise and chaos is just part of what being a kid is all about.
So how do I survive? How do I keep my sanity? I yield to what is. When I feel this sort of sensory overload seeping into my consciousness and I feel myself sinking into a freak-out, I STOP and I breathe the moment in. I just let it all be... without a running narrative, without judgement without wanting or yearning for anything to be different in the moment. And then in that breath of acceptance, I get curious about the moment...
Ok - the little one is melting down... let that in. He won’t stop crying... breathe into that. I don’t know what to do to to help him... be one with that feeling.
It is like an opening, a surrender, a unification, with everything that exists in this moment. It quiets my mind and turns on the light of my intuitive mind. From here, I can see - see what my child needs and what I need to do (or not do...) to serve him in that moment. Because emotionally reacting to stressors often has no productive purpose. It's just us venting frustrated energy. It isn’t helping the situation and most times it makes it worse!
By yielding to what is, I also give my child permission to feel what he feels and, more often than not, the meltdown moment passes surprisingly quickly and life just goes back to its normal flow. Kids want to get back to that good feeling place and if we allow them to (or rather get out of their way emotionally) they will surely do just that.
The most fantastic thing that happens after all that is the feeling I have about ME! I am flooded with pride and love for both myself and my actions and my divine little children. We have connected from a place of truth and peace. I have given them a safe place to fall, a safe place to know and express their feelings and a safe place to know and feel my acceptance and my love.
ON THE COUCH
I agree with Bréne Brown when she says, “You know who you are when you call your friends and say, ‘I think I need to see someone.’”
Let's just say, I know myself very well. So there I sat on my therapist’s couch, gaze down, fiddling with my scarf, confessing, “I feel foolish for even being here,” I said.“I really have nothing to complain about. I have my health, my husband has a job that allows me to stay home, and my girls are healthy and happy. I should be happy, right?”
She just sat in silence, not giving me what I secretly wanted-- any verbal or nonverbal validation of my line of reasoning.
“The worst part,” I rambled on, “is that I know all about mindfulness.” (Oh, yes. She was well aware of my passion project MMN!) “I study it. I read about it all the time. I watch my thinking, and I’m just seeing a bunch of unhappy, angry thoughts. I can’t think my way out of this.”
Like any really good therapist, she still didn’t say a word.
Two seconds later, wanting to fill the uncomfortable silence with something…anything… I said, “Ya know, I just have a hard time accepting that this is my life. I want so much to be different.”
That’s when she smiled. “You may know a lot about acceptance, but maybe you are not actually practicing it in your life," she said calmly.
Then I smiled. That’s the moment it clicked.
So there it was-- my AHA!! My anger, anxiety, and general discontent was a result of wanting things to be different than what they were.
"Now what," I thought? It was painfully obvious I needed to start practicing acceptance, like pronto, but I didn’t have the first clue how to do it. How do I accept things, people and situations that seem totally unacceptable? Isn’t acceptance just giving up? Won’t acceptance simply keep me stuck in the undesirable situations that I am trying so hard to get out of and avoid?
These were all questions I immediately sought to answer the second my session was over. So for the next 4 months, I made a commitment to truly do this acceptance thing; practicing it in as many moments as I could... every day. And this is what I learned….
1) ACCEPTANCE is not what we think it is:
Our egos trick us into thinking that acceptance means defeat, total resignation, and failure. When we unconsciously believe that acceptance is weakness, giving up, or condoning, we want to resist what is. Our egos want us to think that acceptance is the way of weak because the moment we truly accept a situation, person, or event, we no longer have a negative emotional reaction to it. Our egos are rooted in fear, doubt, anger, and resistance-- our negative emotional reactions. Cease reacting (as in unconscious, habitual reaction), cease ego's control.
Acceptance is the act of incredible, conscious, compassionate awareness.
2) RESISTANCE never leads to positive change:
I used to think that if I resisted (got mad and angry) about things that I found unacceptable, that would lead to positive change. But every time I have yelled at my daughter to stop crying, she just cried harder and longer. Never has punishing my body with intense workout regimens and restrictive diets ever brought about a healthy self-image and love for myself. Never has pressuring my husband to get a different job or be something other than he was motivated him to change. If anything, all the negativity, resistance, and anger I infused in each of these situations only created bigger problems.
We teach our children about the power of acceptance all the time! Every time our kids are fighting, you say to the one being taunted, “Just ignore your older brother. The minute you stop reacting to him, he’ll stop pestering you.” For you know the longer your little guy whines, “stop it, stop it,” to his older brother, the longer (and with increased gusto) the older brother keeps up the pestering.
We think that our resistance will create positive change, yet it never, ever does. In fact, when resistance doesn’t create that positive change in our lives, we tighten more and attempt to control harder! The more we tighten and control, the more we narrow our mental focus (as in, we obsess about what we don’t want) and the less we are able to get out of our heads and see other possibilities for positive change.
What we resist persists.
3) ACCEPTANCE is not emotionally reacting (which allows you freedom to choose your response):
When my child is throwing a tantrum, and I don’t react with anger and frustration, I practice acceptance. When I am calm, I see a whole host of other options for responding that I never saw when I got caught in my anger. In my calm response, I kneel down, look her in the eyes, and give her a hug. She stops the tantrum almost immediately.
When I see another mother living the life I dream about, and I don’t react with critical self-comparison and envy, I practice acceptance. In my calm response, I see how much I already have in life. I feel gratitude for the life I’ve created, and I’m inspired and motivated to evolve and grow.
Non-reaction is always the best action.
MINDFUL MAMA PRACTICE
Mindfulness and mindful mothering is all about expanding our perception of things because an expanded perception empowers us with options. When we expand our perception, people, situations, or events, no longer need to change for us to be happy because we have the power to change our thoughts about them. The most direct way to expanding and changing our perception is through acceptance-- non emotional reaction.
Resistance arises when we direct massive amounts of mental energy towards wanting things to be different than what they are. When we do this, we focus on lack; we focus on what's missing. The result is missing all the things (people, events...) that are really the most important because we get so caught up in negative emotions that always end up disconnecting us. You can harness the tremendous power of love and positive energy by practicing acceptance. I have a sneaky suspicion you will find that the moment you choose to not emotionally react to those seemingly "unacceptable" situations, they will change right before your very eyes.